A first-grade teacher from Virginia is bringing Black History Month to life in her classroom by dressing up as a black historical figure every day of the month.
“I decided to dress up for Black History Month so that the kids are actually seeing a live person from history,” Latoya McGriff told ABC’s Good Morning America. “I just wanted to bring history alive for the kids.”
McGriff, who has taught for 12 years, said that the majority of the school’s population is black and wanted to show her students how important it was for black figures to be well-represented in history.
“It is important for the children to see that people who look like them have made contributions because it reassures them that they can, too … It’s hard to believe in something you don’t see,” McGriff said.
McGriff says she uses the different outfits as a conversation starter, so students will ask questions when they see her dressed up as the person she is portraying.
The Virginia teacher says she also focused on historical figures local to Virginia, adding that her favorite historical figure is Mary Jackson, a NASA mathematician during the 1950s, whose role was largely overlooked at the time.
Her life story was featured in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, where her character was played by Janelle Monae.
McGriff also dressed up as Misty Copeland, former President Barack Obama, Ella Fitzgerald, and even put on a costume to honor lesser-known figures such as Dr. L.D. Britt, the first black doctor in the U.S. to have an endowed chair in surgery.
She also took time in her lesson plans to honor historically-black colleges (HBCUs) and nine historically-black Greek-letter organizations.
McGriff says she hopes her efforts will continue to raise awareness of Black History Month in schools.
“I hope that [people who see the story] will implement some type of Black History Month program in their school,” McGriff said. “They don’t have to dress up like I did … but, I just want people to incorporate black history so that other students of color can see themselves represented in history.”
McGriff is not the first Virginia teacher to dress up for Black History Month. Chwanda McLaughlin, a third-grade teacher at Highland Park Elementary in Roanoke, Virginia, also dressed up as black historical figures this month for her students.
Some of the figures she has dressed up as include Diana Ross to Serena Williams, and she has had a lesson plan to accompany each wardrobe change.